Reviews

Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Dan Heaton

Painting a frightening picture of violence, greed and desperation, Bozzo reveals another growing crack in our fragile environment.


Blue Gold: World Water Wars

Director: Sam Bozzo
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Maude Barlow
Distributor: PBS
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2008
US DVD Release Date: 2009-04-07

While preparing to write this review, I stumbled across a commercial for sweetened vitamin water, which seems like an unnecessary product. Why are we spending large sums of money for something that's available, in a healthier form (for those lucky enough to have clean water that, is), for almost nothing? Filmmaker Sam Bozzo goes well beyond this obvious point in Blue Gold: World Water Wars, which tackles the global ramifications of increasing water shortages.

Painting a frightening picture of violence, greed and desperation, Bozzo reveals another growing crack in our fragile environment. Experts from across the globe make the convincing point that water may eclipse oil as the fuel for international conflict.

My goal was to avoid mentioning An Inconvenient Truth, as it's an easy comparison when discussing this picture. But there are too many connections between the two films to ignore them. Al Gore aimed to scare audiences into acting on global warming before it was too late. Bozzo (Holiday on the Moon) uses a similar approach but doesn't take a breath for personal filler. Instead, he builds the message to a feverish pitch and delivers a haunting presentation.

Malcolm McDowell narrates the 90-minute documentary and conveys the proper sense of urgency. Increased urbanization and a growing population have changed the landscape and raised the danger exponentially. When combined with privatization and profit motives, this is the prime environment for a world water crisis.

Based on the 2003 book Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, this film offers plenty of credible evidence. The authors appear frequently to complement the startling footage and worldwide examples. One stunning image presents the river near the US/Mexican border, which carries polio and other serious diseases. This waterway has been decimated by pollution and is now a possibly deadly route for people trying to cross the border.

There are many examples of water becoming toxic through human actions and decimating an ecosystem. Bozzo shows the disastrous effects of privatization, which has shifted water into a profitable enterprise.

“Since Coca-Cola has purchased much of Africa’s supply, water prices have risen sharply and delivered large profits.” It's surprising to see the company's representatives appearing to give reasons for their troubling approach. They're far from the only culprit, however, as governments also struggle when taking charge of the water supply.

Employing a fast-pace approach, Bozzo avoids the pratfalls of the “talking head” documentary style, which can feel too much like a college lecture. However, the information comes so quickly that it can be difficult to comprehend it all. The final section gives a quick look at the actions we can take to lessen our water use, but they're covered briefly and offer little depth.

This is not just an instructional film, as it pushes us seek out more information. The images of violent riots in Bolivia present a possible future for many countries if serious changes aren't made. Uruguay was forced to overturn the privatization of water after prices skyrocketed and pollution grew exponentially, even in water going to schools. Bozzo makes the case that we're all heading for doom if profits from water continue to outweigh the public good.

The extras include an interview with Bozzo and Executive Producer Mark Achbar (The Corporation) on the Vancouver morning show Urban Rush. While this goofy setting feels like an odd place for a serious conversation, the hosts actually ask some good questions.

The nine-minute discussion covers the film's key themes and provides some interesting background. The other primary bonus feature is a collection of seven deleted scenes running about 15 minutes. This footage broadens the scope and depicts huge problems in Australia and Mexico City. We also learn about a stunning trial that reveals a callous response from the Nestle Corporation towards Michigan families. After polluting the environment, Nestle fought vehemently against the local plaintiffs and won the case by appeal. The final scene presents a series of quotes from CEOs, activists and others showing the various sides of the controversial issue.

When this type of politically charged film appears, a certain audience segment will dismiss it outright as biased propaganda.This charge has plagued Michael Moore, Gore and other filmmakers when they tackle controversial subjects. I agree that we should always question the information, but that doesn't mean the medium is flawed.

The mainstream media rarely questions our culture's approach to water use, so it takes passionate figures like Bozzo to explore them. This is not a ground-breaking documentary, but it builds an effective case that a serious new direction is needed.

It's nearly impossible to refute the idea that we're doomed without a safe, reasonably priced water supply. Blue Gold does not paint an optimistic picture of our future.

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